I came around after the operation but didn’t open my eyes for a while. I listened for the sounds of anyone in the room with me.
To my untrained ears, the room was empty. I knew I must look a right state so I’d hoped for a few minutes to myself to at least run a brush through my hair.
There was nothing else for it but to open my eyes. I could tell that it was early evening as the setting sun was giving the room a soft, warm glow.
I lay looking at the ceiling for a few moments.
Then a voice came from my left.
“Hello sleepy head, welcome back to the land of the living.”
So much for my plans then, I knew who it was.
I turned my head and saw Saffy sitting beside my bed.
As my eyes struggled to come into focus, I saw her hair.
“Saffy? What have you done to your hair?”
“Typical Fran. Concerned about others before herself.”
“Sod off Saffy. What have you done to your hair?”
She beamed a smile back.
“I’ve had it cut. For the first time since I was six.”
The style was more of a formal bob. I had to admit that the style suited her rather round face.
“Enough of me, what about you?”
“Sore. I’m fucking sore that’s what. My mind also thinks that my dick is still attached and I want to scratch it.”
When Saffy laughed the whole world, or that within 30ft got to hear about it.
The smile disappeared from her face.
“He’s making a phone call. I’m sure he’ll be back in a while.”
That I didn’t expect.
“What about the shop?”
“This is far more important than the shop. You are more important to me than bricks and mortar.”
She stopped abruptly as if she realised that she’d said something wrong. My still slightly addled brain didn’t pick it up at the time. It was only a lot later when I realised, realised how much everyone was keeping from me.
“Can you dig my hairbrush out of the drawer? I must look a right mess.”
Saffy breathed a sigh of relief as she made her way to the other side of my bed and retrieved my hairbrush.
Fifteen minutes later and Saffy had worked a lot of magic on my face and hair. I felt a bit more presentable. Presentable enough to face the world.
My world at that moment was enlarged to include a nurse.
“Time to take your stats.”
Stats meant blood pressure, O2 levels and temperature.
Her report was short and sweet.
“All normal. Very good. I’ll call the Doctor. I expect he’ll be down very soon to see you.”
With that she left.
Soon, turned out to be more than an hour. All the time we waited, I grew more anxious to see Luca. At the same time, my stomach complained more and more loudly.
Saffy flatly refused to go and find something for me to eat. She calmly pointed to the sign above my bed that still said ‘Nil by Mouth’.
I called the Nurse only to find that she had no sympathy for my grumbling stomach.
“Doctor will know when we can let you eat. Until then, ‘Nil by Mouth’ it says and ‘Nil by Mouth it is’.
At least I was allowed to moisten my parched lips. Small mercies.
Saffy and I talked for a bit but I got increasingly worried about Luca.
“Saffy, can you go and find Luca. I’m worried about him.,” I asked in what I hoped was a suitably concerned voice.
Saffy to her credit didn’t argue but after squeezing my hand, she left my room to look for Luca.
By the time she returned some 15 minutes later, I was starting to get worried.
“Where’s Luca? I thought you were going to find him?”
I asked before she’d gotten even halfway through the door.
Saffy smiled back at me.
“He’ll be here in a minute. He’s just gone to wash his hands.”
“There is something wrong isn’t there? Did my operation go wrong?”
I asked starting to get a bit desperate.
Saffy sat down beside me and took my hand.
I didn’t like this, not one little bit.
“Your operation was a complete success. But yes, there is something wrong but not with any of us.”
Despite her attempt at calming me, I didn’t feel re-assured at all.
To my eternal relief, Luca stuck his head around the door to my room.
He blew me a kiss and said,
“Be back with a vase for this lot.”
He showed me a huge bunch of flowers.
My relief at seeing him at last was palpable.
When he returned, the flowers were in a large vase. He set it down on the small cupboard at the foot of my bed.
He came and sat on the bed beside me.
“Now, how are you my darling?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. As I went to open my mouth, my lips encountered his.
Unbeknown to me Saffy was sidling her way out of the room leaving us alone together.
When we came up for air, I managed to get a word in at last.
“I was so worried about you. When I woke up and Saffy was here on her own, I was so worried about everything.”
Luca gave me that look of his. The look that said ‘shut up. I need to tell you something’.
Luca swallowed hard and took my hands in his.
“The house in Tuscany… Someone set fire to it last night.”
“But… Was anyone hurt? How much damage was done?”
Luca looked really serious. A look that I’d not seen before.
“We don’t know very much detail at all. Claudia is on her way to Italy as we speak. When she gets there, she will let us know.
The builder, Giuseppe called me in the middle of the night.”
Then he stopped.
“I’ve been talking to the Met Police most of the day.”
“The Police? Here? Why?”
He gripped my hands tighter.
“Because my darling, someone burnt our house to the ground.”
“Our house? You mean the one in Italy?”
He shook his head.
“Sorry. I am not expressing myself very well.”
He swallowed hard once more and gripped my hand tighter.
“Both of our houses have been set alight. Our house in Bath and yours in Tuscany. It seems that both fires were set at around the same time. Obviously planned and coordinated. It does mean my dear at this moment in time and to put it bluntly, we are homeless.”
I sank back onto the bed trying to believe what I’d just been told.
“Who? Why?... When?”
“Who? Well I have some ideas but there is no proof. Who else but someone close to us would even know about Tuscany?”
He was right.
“To have both places literally raised to the ground. I never understood why you English use a word that means to lift up to
mean exactly the opposite is quite beyond me.”
He looked at me hard.
“It can only be those two other women in my life, my ex-wife and my mother.”
“Because I’ve rejected both of them. You English have this saying about a woman spurned. Well there are two of them here.”
“But why would they do such a thing?” I repeated.
Luca kissed me again, but briefly this time.
“Why is revenge, pure and simple. They might not have done it themselves. At this point in time we don’t know if there is a link between the two fires but the Police here seem to think so. Proving it is going to be another problem.”
A few tears ran down my face.
“The Police would like to interview you and get a statement. I told them you would be able to do it tomorrow.”
I didn’t say anything. I was still trying to get to grips with the disaster that had befell on us. There really was no other word than ‘disaster’ that could describe the last twenty-four hours.
“What about Sophia and Benito? They need to know what has happened.”
Luca leaned over and kissed me.
“That is what I love about you, always thinking about the bigger picture.”
I felt myself going slightly red in the face.
“I will go and see them tomorrow, once we have given our statements to the Police.”
I nodded my agreement.
“With respect to the bigger picture, there is the little fact that we are homeless.”
He gave me a small smile.
“I know. We can always stay in a Hotel until we sort something out. It shouldn’t take very long.”
I shook my head and grinned back at him.
“Don’t worry yourself over that. I’ll get something sorted out. It will only take an email and a couple of phone calls.”
Luca looked at me totally befuddled by what I’d just said.
“I don’t understand what you are talking about.”
Still smiling, I sighed before replying,
“You seem to have forgotten that I am a woman of property.”
Then I realised saying that I was a woman and not lying about what was hidden between my legs. It actually felt rather good.
There was no reaction from Luca so I moved on.
“What I’m saying my darling, is that my Letting Agent will probably be able to help us out. From memory, of my twelve houses, there is usually one vacant or about to become vacant all the time. I only let them out for six or twelve months at most. If there isn’t then he’ll know of a place we can use after all it is his business.”
Luca shook his head.
“I knew you had property but I didn’t know the details.”
“That my darling is because it never came up and you, to your credit never pushed me to tell you all about it. For that, I am eternally grateful. I really don’t like talking about it. I never earned it. Perhaps I am a little embarrassed about having some money, I don’t know but thankfully my darling it can help at times like this.”
To his credit, Luca just gave me a little peck on the lips.
“At least the insurance will cover the rebuilding,” he said almost as an afterthought.
As soon as I heard the word ‘Insurance’, I went white in the face. Then I buried my head in his shoulders as I started to cry.
“What is wrong my darling?” said Luca as he soothed me.
“It wasn’t insured,” I blubbed.
“What do you mean not insured? I remember paying the premiums myself.”
“Not here. Tuscany. It was too much of a hassle with all the building work going on.”
Neither of us said anything for quite a while.
All this bad news had one positive effect. That was to make me forget about the considerable pain that I was in. Now was the perfect time for a dose of the ‘Happy Juice’ pain killer.
“Can you let me alone for a while. I think I need a little of that ‘Happy Juice’.”
Once I was alone, I pressed the button on the control that would give me a measured dose of the drugs. After a few minutes, I dozed off into pain-free oblivion.
It was dark outside when I came around again. I lay there thinking about what had happened to not one but two of our homes. I knew that the police would want to speak to me. My only solace was that I had the perfect alibi.
I instinctively knew who was responsible for the fires. My mind tried to work out how we could prove them guilty.
It was only then that I heard a slight movement to my right. I turned my head and saw Luca.
“Shh darling. Just relax and get better.”
He took my hand in his. Just that simple action made me feel a lot better.
“Shh. Later. When you are better we can talk about it.”
“It was them, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, and the Police caught my ex-wife on the Motorway heading for London. She’d crashed her car. She’d never driven on the left before. They found maps and everything. She’s under arrest.”
“What about your Mother?”
“My father has it under control. He’s working with the Police.”
“But our home?”
“Well, thanks to you, Saffy and your Agent we have a place in Bathampton, so we aren’t homeless anymore.”
“The children send their love. They can’t wait to come and see you.”
“They can’t see me in here. I don’t want to have them see me like this.”
Luca didn’t answer me.
“What aren’t your telling me? How can they be cool with me not being a proper woman? Not able to be a proper mother!”
“Shh darling. They want me to be happy. I’m happy with you. If I’m happy then they will be happy. They love you anyway. Besides, their real Mother is off their Christmas list from here to eternity.”
Luca took me in his arms and kissed me.
“Now, Doctor Luca says it is time for you to some rest. Apparently, your dressings are coming off tomorrow.”
I groaned as I remembered the words of the consultant. ‘Dilation, dilation and more dilation.
The Police turned up a little later and spoke to Luca and myself. They’d already interviewed staff at the clinic so they were happy that I hadn’t set fire to the house in order to get the insurance money.
Luca was with me when I left the hospital two days later and travelled to our new home in Bathampton. It was just a simple three-bedroom semi that had been built in the 1970’s. But it was mine, free and clear.
Everyone pitched in to help including the children. It didn’t take long to make it actually feel like home.
With all sorts of evidence against her Gina pleaded guilty to the charges of Arson and Conspiracy to commit Arson and received a 4 year sentence. The Italian courts didn’t waste much time in granting Luca the final part of the divorce, sole custody of the children and absolved him of the need to pay Gina any money in the future. Niamh, on the other hand, denied all knowledge of the crime despite being seen at the house on the morning of the fire. As it wasn’t a capital case, the court granted her bail. She didn’t waste any time in making threats against me before disappearing off the face of the planet.
[The following Easter on an island in French Polynesia]
“Do you Luca Di Mateo take this woman Fran Charleston to be your lawful wedded wife?”
Luca looked at me in that special was he does that caused me to go all gooey inside.
“I do,” he replied.
“Do you Fran Charleston take this man Luca Di Mateo to be your lawful wedded husband?”
I smiled at him.
“Then with the powers vested in me, I pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Luca kissed me with a passion that I’d never experienced before.
All the people present at the ceremony clapped. There weren’t many apart from the Children, Saffy, Claudia and Marco. The others were the delivery crew of the mega yacht that we were standing on. It was being delivered to the owner of the Island Paradise where we were anchored. He was the person conducting the service. The setting was really idyllic and a place where someone like Niamh could not get to us to try to stop the wedding as she’d promised she would very vocally more than once.
We set sail on our Honeymoon as the sun set that evening. Luca and I watched the sun go down and the millions of stars in the southern sky appear.
Watching the night sky appear as if by magic, I had time to reflect that my ‘Italian Job’ had turned out all right in the end. At least I wasn’t hanging over the edge of a cliff looking to rescue the gold. My piece of Italian gold was standing right beside me and was going nowhere unless, I was at his side.
This story was inspired by reading an article about a former banker who changed her profession and became a Nanny.
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